Time-dependent plasticity in silicon microbeams mediated by dislocation nucleation

Mohamed Elhebeary, Tristan Harzer, Gerhard Dehm, M. Taher A. Saif

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding deformation mechanisms in silicon is critical for reliable design of miniaturized devices operating at high temperatures. Bulk silicon is brittle, but it becomes ductile at about 540 °C. It creeps (deforms plastically with time) at high temperatures (∼800 °C). However, the effect of small size on ductility and creep of silicon remains elusive. Here, we report that silicon at small scales may deform plastically with time at lower temperatures (400 °C) above a threshold stress. We achieve this stress by bending single-crystal silicon microbeams using an in situ thermomechanical testing stage. Small size, together with bending, localize high stress near the surface of the beam close to the anchor. This localization offers flaw tolerance, allowing ductility to win over fracture. Our combined scanning, transmission electron microscopy, and atomic force microscopy analysis reveals that as the threshold stress is approached, multiple dislocation nucleation sites appear simultaneously from the high-stressed surface of the beam with a uniform spacing of about 200 nm between them. Dislocations then emanate from these sites with time, lowering the stress while bending the beam plastically. This process continues until the effective shear stress drops and dislocation activities stop. A simple mechanistic model is presented to relate dislocation nucleation with plasticity in silicon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16864-16871
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number29
StatePublished - Jul 21 2020


  • MEMS
  • Micromechanics
  • Plasticity
  • Silicon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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